How to Get in (a) Shape for Hunting Season

Practical Ways To Get Physically Ready For Deer and Elk Hunting Season

You don’t need to bench press a Volkswagen or run an ultramarathon to hunt this fall. But it doesn’t hurt to get moving. 

By PJ DelHomme | PUBLISHED July 25th, 2022 

At the end of every summer, I do this dance—the fat pants dance. I pull out the camo hunting pants from the Rubbermaid tub and suck in the gut. One leg goes in, two legs in, and then comes the moment of truth. I can typically convince the button to go through the hole and get the zipper up, but holy crap. It's a literal gut check. I think I had a few too many beers and brats over the summer. 

Being “in shape” isn’t about rocking a six pack (the stomach or Coors light kind). For me, it's about feeling more energetic and not dying on my next hunt. Think about it. How often do you exercise the equivalent of dragging a deer or packing an elk out of the woods? I don’t do it that often. If you go from a sedentary lifestyle straight into dragging dead weight or trying to hike a couple thousand feet, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and a whole lot of pain. 

With hunting season close at hand, here are a few practical things that I do to try and get into mildly better shape so I don’t set myself up for a coronary. Because I am not a doctor (I don’t play one on TV, either), don’t take my advice. Get yourself an annual physical. I know it sucks. That doctor will likely poke you in places that shouldn’t be poked and prodded, but it’s good to get a baseline evaluation of your health. Talk to them about your hopes and dreams of chasing ungulates over hill and dale. And talk to them about getting into an exercise routine. Here’s my plan, which I swear I will start tomorrow. 

Start Moving 

I live in western Montana. Nearly all of our family fun involves doing things outside. I’m not going to lie, it’s great. But I also spend many hours in my basement on a computer. I’m not alone. A 2011 study found that Americans have become increasingly sedentary at their jobs. We all need balance, which is why if we’re going to sit, we also need to move. Go for walks at lunch time. Play some basketball with the kids after work. If you’re watching a football game in your living room, see how many push ups you can do between commercial breaks. The point is to start moving those middle-aged muscles. Starting is always the worst part. 

Get Up Early 

If you’re middle-aged with kids, you likely already know the bliss that comes with getting up before anyone else in the house. If you don’t do this, then please do yourself a solid and experience this wonderful trip into a land of peace and quiet. Since you’re up, head outside and just start walking. If you’re feeling frisky, maybe put on a backpack with a 20-pound weight in it. You want to be on the hill or in your treestand well before daylight anyway. Why not get your body accustomed to getting up early well before fall? 

Shooting Practice 

Shooting accurately with a bow or rifle is as much a mental game as it is physical. If you’re a bowhunter, keeping your shoulders and back in shape isn’t easy, but it is necessary. Don’t just pick up your 70-pound bow and start slinging 100 arrows right out of the gate. 

In a previous life, I was the hunting editor for an elk hunting magazine. I became good friends with our bowhunting columnist Chuck Adams. If you haven’t heard of the guy, look him up. At 71, he’s still out there bowhunting and killing more record-book animals than anyone. He’s a crack shot with a bow, but he doesn’t shoot as much as you’d think. In May, he’ll start shooting 20 or 30 arrows twice each week. Then he’ll crank it up to 60 come July. He’s had too many friends with shoulder issues caused by shooting too much. He also has a good shoulder warm-up routine and flawless technique. 

Rifle hunters need not worry about blown shoulders as much as bowhunters, but they do need to be able to control their breath and heart rate before making a shot. Buck fever is real. When a bruiser finally slips up and walks out in front of me, my heart always pounds way too fast. To practice settling down before the shot, I’ll crank out some jumping jacks or a dozen push ups at the rifle range and then settle behind my rifle into a field position. I’ll touch off one shot, then focus on my breathing and heart rate for the second shot. Which shot do you think hits closer to the mark? Being in mildly better shape helps to slow my heart faster than being in couch shape. To avoid any calls to the range safety officer, I avoid doing this on a busy Saturday. 

The Core Hunter 

Underneath quite a few layers of micro-brews, cheetos, and hot dogs, there exists a group of muscles known as my “core.” I’m pretty sure these muscles exist, yet they are rarely seen. It’s like my very own Chupacabra baby. These muscles in your belly, lower back, and hips are essential for mitigating injury. You use them in everything from your golf swing to hauling out a deer to carrying a pack. 

Years ago I had the lovely experience of herniating a disc (L5-S1)—twice. The cause? A weak core and stress. I’ve since worked to strengthen the former and reduce the latter. Forget sit ups, and think plank. Plank is a relatively simple exercise in which you lay yourself belly down on the floor. Then, prop yourself up with your toes and your elbows, face down, and stay as straight as possible. Give it a try. See how long you can hold it today. Then do it everyday until the opener. Better yet, have a competition with the kids to see who holds out longer. Loser washes the dishes. 

In the end, you may do all of these things and still do the fat pants dance in September. That’s okay. Hopefully, if you start a couple months before hunting season, you get the blood moving, your legs ready, your core stronger, and your mind in the right place. And if, God forbid, you actually fill a tag this fall, the drag or pack out will only hurt for a couple days instead of a week. 

PJ DelHomme writes and edits content from his basement office in western Montana. Thanks to a global pandemic, he started Crazy Canyon Media and Crazy Canyon Journal in 2021. 

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